Word count: ~3000
Warnings: Non linear narrative.
Author's Note: Written for the summergen exchange. This bundles together a number of madebyme’s prompts – including but not exclusively: how SPN might end, possible consequences of Death's death, and (kind of) an elderly outsider POV. Lyrics from Passenger's Wicked Man's Rest.
Betas: You know who you are – many thanks to you both!
Summary: Where nobody gets hurt, no one falls in love because they are there already, and someone dies but kind of doesn’t. Oh, and pretty much everyone gets confused.
Dean is old and forgetful, Sam is dead and maybe a ghost. With Death long gone, and all the rules broken, Time has become fluid and ancient gods like Vertumnos have no constraints. So when Vertumnos offers Dean a chance to buy some time, he takes it.
Well I've got open eyes,
And an open door,
But I don't know what I'm searching for.
I should know by now.
The world was very simple. He’d come to understand that more and more clearly as he grew older.
You aged, and everyone you ever knew and loved left you. The world contracted around you, getting smaller and narrower until you were the only one left. And that was the simplest of all the worlds.
Just you, alone with your pain.
Then, of course, just when he was becoming accustomed to this shrunken state, some random minor god turned up and complicated matters by offering him – what? A second chance? A way out? Fuck knows what it was, exactly, but it gave him his ghost, and that was all the expansion of the world that he needed.
This wasn’t time travel. This wasn’t disturbing the world order. This was different. He couldn’t change the past and affect the balance by his actions. Besides, since Death’s demise and the rise of the Darkness, there wasn’t much order to upset any more. At least that’s what he told himself, whenever he returned to Vertumnos for another dose, another fix, whatever he wanted to call it.
And he never noticed what he lost in exchange, because he mistakenly thought he had nothing else to lose.
Well I've a big old heart,
This I know for sure,
But I don't know what my love is for.
I should know by now.
Sam was thirty-two.
“You found us a case here, in Lebanon? Sweet! We can be home in time for tea.”
Dean didn’t pause in his polishing, his dust-cloth rubbing over the shiny surface of the mahogany table. Sam could have sworn that the table was already reflecting far better than the mirror over his bedroom washbasin, but he recognised an unstoppable force when he saw one, so he refrained from commenting. When you were responsible for killing Death and releasing an evil on the world so ancient it didn’t even have a proper name, a little obsessive cleaning was understandable. Ultimately futile, of course, but…understandable.
“Yeah, there’s been some weird stuff going on, several people missing and one just turned up dead. Looks like our sort of thing.”
Sam recognised the look on Dean’s face as relief, in large part because he felt the same way. Having a task to do that was ‘normal’ – ganking a ghost, a shifter, even a witch –would be a welcome distraction from wondering how the hell they were going to fight something as primeval and chaotic as the Darkness.
“So where do we start this investigation, geek boy?”
Sam couldn’t help the grin that crossed his face. Dean was going to love this.
“The Wicked Man’s Rest Home for Seniors.”
It was the half-familiar deep rumble of an engine that woke him from his afternoon doze. By request his room overlooked the parking lot of the Wicked Man’s Rest Home (and the amusement he got from that name was never going to get old). It was a concession they’d been more than happy to give him when he’d arrived. Most residents – at least the ones still compos mentis enough to be aware of where they were – fought for possession of the rooms at the back, the ones with the big French windows and the views of the gardens and the lake – not him. It might be illogical, but he felt safer in this room with its small window and single door onto the corridor next to the front entrance. From here he could monitor all comings and goings with confidence. This was important, even though he couldn’t remember why he needed to be vigilant, or against whom.
So yeah. Afternoon napping. What the hell was that all about?
He wondered when old age had crept up on him. Must have been sneaky, like a ninja, because he’d never seen it coming. Maybe he’d been complacent, thinking some fugly would snuff out his candle before he melted down into a puddle of wax, but here he was. Burnt out. Washed up.
His flame was going to putter out, drowned in an anti-climax, and that was no way to finish his story.
Don’t tell me. You wanted the blaze of glory, didn’t you? The Butch and Sundance ending. Guess life’s not like the movies, eh?
His ghost smiled – the little bitch was always getting far too much satisfaction out of mocking him, dammit.
“Fuck you. Life’s exactly like the movies. Full of bullshit.”
He started guiltily as a head popped round the open doorway. Goddammit, he was always telling them he wanted the damn door kept shut.
“What’s that you’re sayin’, Mr Martin? You know the ladies across the way don’t appreciate your swearin’.”
The familiar husky tones of Hilary the day nurse scared the ghost away, just like she always did, leaving Mr Martin alone, wondering what had woken him in the first place.
He hauled himself out of his chair, wincing at the audible crack that both his knees gave out as he straightened.
To be honest, he didn’t recognise this body when he looked in the mirror. Maybe he’d been soul-swapped or something. Yeah, that made more sense than having lived long enough to get this decrepit.
His random thoughts stuttered to a halt when he caught sight of the gleaming black beauty parked right outside his window. He whistled low between his teeth, his eyes lit up with admiration.
“Now that’s what I’m talking about! A ’67 Chevy Impala, or I’m the Archangel Michael, wings’n’all.”
“And are you? The Archangel Michael, I mean,” came an amused voice from the door behind him, and Rest Home policy be damned, he was really going to have to get a fucking lock for his door. It was like Grand Central Station in here today. First Hilary, and now not one but two tall strangers were crowding his doorway, blocking his escape route with their cheap suits and broad shoulders.
Fakers, was his first thought, quickly followed by strange, they look familiar, have I seen these two somewhere before?
“Do I look like a fucking angel?” he growled.
The shorter one chuckled at his display of outrage, but the tall one with the sad cat-eyes didn’t crack, maintaining a concerned professional face with admirable ease.
Mr Martin was impressed, albeit reluctantly. He just wished he could remember where, if at all, he’d encountered the pair before. The tall one was giving him the side-eye as if he was thinking the same thing. He watched in a wary silence as the two men came into his room and made themselves at home.
“I’m Mike McCready and this is my colleague, Eddy Vedder. We’re from the Care Quality Agency, checking on the quality of care provided by this facility,” the tall one said, sincerity written in every line of those ridiculously long limbs, as he folded himself into a spare chair.
Mr Martin raised an eyebrow, but refrained from expressing his scepticism out loud. Yeah, right – McCready and Vedder. If these two were legit, he’d eat his hat. If he had a hat. Huh. Did he even own a hat?
“So, Mr…Martin,” said the pretty, short one, thankfully distracting him from weird jumbled-up concerns about millinery. “Can you tell us how you came to be a resident in the Wicked Man’s Rest Home?”
He shared a momentary snigger with the short guy at the rest home’s name, which caused the tall one to roll his eyes in barely concealed exasperation. It all felt very familiar.
“Come on,” Mr Martin pointed out, with what he considered to be the voice of reason. “It beats St Mary Magdalene’s Home for the Morally Destitute, which was my only other choice in this town.”
The short one rewarded him with an outright guffaw, but the tall one’s bitch-face made him miss his ghost. He clenched his arthritic hands into fists, his good mood dissolving.
Well I wait in line,
So I can wait some more,
'Til I can't remember what I came here for,
But I can't leave now,
Cause I've a light that shines,
And a love so pure,
But I don't know what to use them for.
I should know by now.
Sam was forty.
Sam woke up.
He’d been dreaming, but already the details were slipping away. Something to do with Dean. Something important.
He sat up, and it was as if the sudden increase in altitude wiped the last vestiges of the dream from his mind. Dean stuck his head around Sam’s door and threw a pair of dirty boxers at Sam.
“Up and at ‘em, bitch! It’s your turn to do the laundry.”
Sam frantically batted the offending article of clothing away, only to catch Dean’s grin as he retreated.
“Did you just jerk off into these? You’re disgusting!” he yelled, searching for a tissue to wipe his sticky fingers.
“Karma’s a bitch, Sammy,” was Dean’s parting shot as he disappeared down the corridor. “That’ll teach you to forget the pie.”
Sam growled. He hadn’t forgotten Dean’s stupid pie. The Seven Eleven had sold out, dammit.
Sam did, however, forget all about his dream – until next time.
Sam was dead.
It was a long time before Dean could shape the words, even within the private cavernous silence that filled his head. Mostly he thought, when he was thinking at all, that his brother was gone. Gone, not dead. Dead, even for a Winchester with their fucked up lives, was still a very final word. And after all, Dean had been down that road before, back in Cold Oak, and for sure he never wanted to travel that route again.
Last time, though, it had only lasted a couple of days, not the weeks, the interminable months and years he had had to endure this time – because he’d promised to live. Crowley wasn’t talking to him, Castiel had nothing to say, and there were no more deals to be made. There was no one to accept another sacrifice. There were no angels strong enough to pull his brother out of perdition, or wherever Sam was, now that the triangular symmetry that Heaven, Hell and Purgatory had imposed on the world was destroyed.
Dean sat in the diner, untouched food congealing on the white china plate in front of him, staring at the empty seat opposite him. It was emptier than it should have been.
Soldiers get wounded on the battlefield, and survive, but sometimes there is a piece of shrapnel left embedded in their bodies that no one saw, or that was beyond the skill of the surgeons to remove. And eventually, that stray piece works its way into their core, right into the heart.
The coroner’s verdict – died of wounds.
Sam was Dean’s shrapnel, except Sam had been lodged deep inside Dean’s heart since Dean first held onto his baby brother with intent, back when Dean was four years old. When Sam detonated, the shards had less far to travel before shredding Dean apart.
Dean started, then stared across the chipped diner table at Sam’s place which was no longer empty. The stranger filling the space was a small guy, dark skinned and dark haired, with sharp features and even sharper eyes. He smiled as Dean looked up, teeth gleaming.
“Who the fuck are you?”
But Dean already knew.
His ID card and credit cards said he was Dean Martin, aged seventy-eight, so that’s the name he was admitted under. For some reason Dean had found it funny at first, but after a while he forgot why it had amused him in the first place. After a while his ghost, his Sammy, stopped trying to remind him it was neither funny nor his name.
His brain was all fucked up. The doctors tried to get him to do a load of stupid games and tests to assess the damage, but Dean could have told the medical staff what the results would show. If they’d been willing to spend (waste) the money on a brain scan, Dean knew there would be dark, shaded areas all over the EEG read-outs. Had they caught him earlier, he would have been able to tell them why so many parts of his brain were blank, but now only Sam remembered what Dean had given away, and why.
“Were you a boxer, Mr Martin?” One doctor asked him, looking for reasons for the evident brain trauma, and Dean said yes.
There were three things from his past that never left him. The first was Sam. He didn’t know who exactly Sam was, but he knew at his core that Sam was the single most important person in his life. He guessed that was why Sam stayed with him, even though he was fairly certain that Sam was dead. The second thing was that he didn’t do well on his own, and the last thing he remembered was fighting.
The kind of fighting that sprang to mind didn't seem anything like boxing, but he guessed the kind of brain damage left behind was close enough, so it was easier to say yes to the suggestion. Trying to explain about monsters and demons and angels would only get him a padded cell instead of a nice room in a home for the terminally old and chronically lonely.
Sam was thirty-two.
“Come on Dean, don’t tell me you didn’t recognise him,” Sam said, virtually hauling a protesting Dean outside to the Impala.
“What the hell, Sam? We still had to interview three more of the old duffers, why did you drag me away? And that hot matron offered us cherry pie…”
Sam stared at Dean’s bewildered face. He seemed genuinely oblivious to the fact that he’d just been interrogating himself back there.
“Dude, did you never look in the mirror that time when Patrick aged you?”
“Ew, no! Well, I did once or twice but, man, those wrinkles were scary. I mean, it was traumatic seeing all this…” and he gestured to his thirty-something face, “…gone to rack and ruin, you know?”
“Dean, sometimes I swear you are dense on purpose.”
As if to prove Sam right, Dean’s face was a picture of incomprehension for a full two seconds, then to Sam’s relief, understanding dawned. Though Dean wasn’t going to make things that easy for his little brother, of course he wasn’t. He was Dean, after all.
“Wait a minute, you are not saying that Old Father Time in there is actually me, are you? That’s just nutty. I mean, I shook his gnarly hand, dude. Shouldn’t the world have exploded or something, you know, from the temporal paradox or whatever?”
Sam ran his hand through his hair in exasperation.
“You’ve been watching too much Star Trek, Dean. Besides, I don’t think this is that kind of deal.”
He hesitated, knowing Dean was going to like this part even less than the fact that he’d just been interviewing himself for the last half-hour.
“I’ve been having these dreams. Well, at least I thought they were dreams, but now I think they were something else.”
“Wait, wait…you’ve been having visions? Again?”
Sam winced at the emphasis Dean put on the word, all the weight of the past making it sink like lead. He could see the hint of fear in Dean’s eyes. Even after all these years, the memories of Azazel’s legacy could fuck them both up.
“Not visions, no, I think they were something else.”
“What kind of else?”
“I think they were windows in time.”
“Well that’s clear as mud, thanks, Sam.”
Sam was twenty-five.
Vertumnos shook Dean’s hand to take his first down-payment, and Dean blinked.
When he opened his eyes, the Etruscan god was gone and Sam was standing in front of him, a puzzled frown fixed on his youthful face.
“Hey, Sammy,” Dean said, grinning. “Lookin’ good, little bro.”
Dean? What happened to you?
“I got old, man. Who’d have thought that would ever happen, huh?”
Dean didn’t notice that Sam never remembered a conversation, or that his age seemed to fluctuate. At first he was so happy to see Sam, he didn’t care that Sam usually asked the same questions, and then, as Dean used Vertumnos’ spell more and more often, Dean didn’t remember the details of their conversations either, so it didn’t really matter.
Dean, what did you do?
Sam’s look of apprehension urged Dean to make everything better, but something, maybe it was the pressure of those sincere hazel eyes, kept Dean honest.
“I dunno, Sammy,” Dean said. “I don’t remember. But it’s okay. Whatever it was, it brought you here.”
But you don’t even remember who I am, Dean.
“Yes I do,” Dean said, certainty filling his empty spaces. “You’re Sammy.”
And that was all that mattered.
Sam was Sam.
Dean watched the two young fakers leave – the tall one all tense and eager, the short one full of pugnacity and wilful ignorance. He didn’t think they would come back, but even if they did, he wouldn’t be here.
“When did life become all about endings?” he muttered to himself.
Are you really asking that question, Dean? Your life has been about endings and saying goodbye one way or another since you were four years old. Mine since I was six months. We’ve done nothing but bear witness to the end of one story after another since then. The only story that never ends is ours – so what’s so different now?
“Well, when you put it like that…”
He took the large hand Sam was offering and rose to his feet.
“Guess we’re out of time, huh?”
I think you paid too much for the time you had, Dean, but I’m going to make it up to you now.
Behind Sam, Dean could see pure white sand stretching down to a glimmering expanse of water.
“A beach holiday, Sammy? Really?”
Dean tried to sound unimpressed, but the wide grin on his face gave him away. He held onto Sam’s hand as he stepped through to the other side, shedding years like unwanted clothing as he went.